The ability to predict early-onset dementia sooner and more accurately would obviously be beneficial to patients, offering them a better chance at effective treatment. But it would also be a great boon to Alzheimer's research.
A whopping 99.6 percent of Alzheimer's drug trials have failed over the last decade. Scientists think that pathetic track record is largely due to the fact that the trial participants are too far along in the development of the disease -- beyond the point of treatment.
"Alzheimer's begins to affect the brain many years before patients are diagnosed (and) many of our drug trials fail because by the time patients are given the drugs the brain has already been too severely affected," explained Simon Lovestone, study author and researcher at Oxford University.
"A simple blood test could help us identify patients at a much earlier stage to take part in new trials and hopefully develop treatments," Lovestone added.
Although promising, researchers warned that any early blood test would be unlikely to offer complete certitude, and would likely not be used by doctors in isolation -- but instead as part of a broader array of diagnostic techniques. A positive test would need to be confirmed with brain scans and testing of spinal fluid.
Still, Dr. Eric Karran, director of research at Alzheimer's Research UK, says the study is a step toward making Alzheimer's a preventable disease.
"This gives a better way to identify people who will progress to Alzheimer's disease, people who can be entered into clinical trials earlier," he explained. "I think that will increase the potential of a positive drug effect and thereby I think we will get to a therapy, which will be an absolute breakthrough if we can get there."